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Bowdie Gypsum 2004
Frustration in SE Utah

Off to a Good Start

I stood just below the trail that headed on to Beef Basin, and looked down at the yawning chasm below us that comprised the south wall of Gypsum Canyon. The topo map said about 900 feet, but it felt like a lot more. Someone said behind me: "That can't be the way, it's way too steep." I responded that this was definitely the route described by Kelsey. Behind us was the old barbed wire fence and below us was a nice rock cairn. Albeit, the cairn was right above a steep slot that would definitely be a backpacks-off descent. And that was just the first 20 feet or so. It was unclear what "fun"lay ahead. Susie, off to my right, peered over the cliff and said, "You know, if you want to mark a waypoint here, and your GPS only allows you to use six characters, you'd better name this one O-H-S-H-I-T." Indeed ..........

Things had gotten off to a pretty smooth and relaxing start. By the most complex set of flight itineraries with which I had ever dealt, thirteen of us, using 8 different itineraries on 4 different airlines, all managed to arrive on or ahead of schedule in Albuquerque on Friday evening. Ron, our resident finance professor, won the prize for going the most out of his way for a cheap ticket: Knoxville to Albuquerque via Memphis and Minneapolis. Lance, one of our engineers, and his two kids, Cora and Cliff, managed to luck out on a delayed flight on American: the airline put them on a flight that would, miraculously, get them into ABQ early. Susie and I, with a nearly 3 hour layover in Dallas, had been content to sit in the Crown Room and imbibe, easing our way into vacation, but then decided to meet Andy and Sue getting off their first flight from Austin. They had not taken the time for any dinner, so they ate at the Pizza Hut in the commuter terminal, while I sat and listened to Susie comment on the fact that they were splitting a small pizza, as opposed to having one each. Susie, lovingly, will take advantage of any opportunity to make an object lesson.

Ray, John, and Barbara, had all managed to arrive earlier in the day, and Will and Diane, just a few minutes behind us. It appeared that all the chicks would be in their appointed nests, so I slept soundly.

Saturday morning, it was time to pick up our rental vehicles and head for Blanding, our jumping off point. Since I had anticipated driving over dozens of miles of dirt roads to access these canyons, where a high clearance vehicle would be nearly essential, and last year we had been skunked because of snow in the higher elevations of the Dark Canyon Plateau, I was determined that we would make it to the trailhead. Not only did we plan the trip for the middle third of May (instead of mid-April), but we rented four 4WD vehicles to insure that little would be able to stop us. Of course, four separate vehicles in the hands of this many independently minded folks made the proverbial herd of cats seem like a highly disciplined strike force. Now, I had sent out detailed turn by turn maps and directions, along with strip maps, to all of the drivers. The plan was to head to Wal-Mart to pick up snacks and Coleman fuel, then to REI, for last minute purchases, and then head on to Blanding, via the low-stress route through Cuba, NM. Well, John, with Barbara and Ray aboard, took off before the rest of us, and we never saw them until Blanding. Will and Diane wanted to go jogging, and go directly to REI. Will had printed the maps I sent, but never bothered to look at them, and somehow thought that REI was still in Old Town. Sorry! REI had been moved for something like three years or so. Naturally, Diane, Will and Ron showed up at the REI just as we were leaving. And Lance hadn't bothered to print out the maps I had sent, nor had he picked up any highway maps ahead of time and so had nothing other than the rent-a-car map from Dollar with which to navigate. So he felt like he had to tail me through both the streets of ABQ and most of the way to Blanding. It was hard enough for me to drive the biggest SUV/boat made on the planet (the Ford Excursion) through the streets of a major city, without having to worry about whether someone else could follow me through the stop lights.

Despite this Keystone Cops approach to traveling, the drive up to Blanding was pretty low stress. Susie, driving at the time, made the mistake of promising that, should we pass a second Dairy Queen in the Bloomfield/Farmington Metroplex, she would stop. They were advertizing some delightful chocolate concoction, and it had gotten the best of me. Well, there was a second one in Farmington, and it provided a good excuse for Lance, who seemed to have a hard time staying awake at the wheel, to get some acutely needed shuteye and driving relief from Sue. Driving west of Shiprock, we were blown away by the sweeping vistas of Globe Mallow blooming. While we had made this trip seemingly dozens of times over the past 22 years, we had never come this late in the season, and were amazed at the intensity of the bloom. Arriving in Blanding15 minutes early (ca. 6.2 hour drive) seemed to be cause for celebration, and cocktail hour started early (note, this was with beer and wine imported from New Mexico). The chances of getting a beer in Blanding are about as slim as seeing snow in the bottom of the Grand Canyon on July 4th. We stayed again at our favorite Blanding digs, the Four Corner's Inn. The rooms are big and clean, and the proprietor friendly. And there is a family steak house (read: no beer) next door. After dinner, we all repaired to our rooms to do final packing and wine drinking. Life was relaxed and good.

Next day

Roger A. Jenkins, 2004; Photo of Ron with bottle, Andrew P. Butler, 2004